Written by By Eileen Yu, CNN Beijing
On August 8, the Sun Hai Watch Dog Association of Wuhan distributed a picture on Chinese social media showing two puppies in “training” with two volunteers.
It was a bear pit of a video — and now it’s gone viral.
In the moving footage, two trussed-up corgi dogs are forced to do calisthenics against a railing at a chaotic gym while the oblivious volunteers run around laughing. The camera is rolling as the dogs swing in the air while multiple handlers run beside and behind them, pulling them around the plastic push-up mat at full speed.
The video has been viewed more than 4 million times since being shared in the Chinese microblogging site Weibo and attracted thousands of comments.
It’s unclear what caused the dogs’ behavior, but one commentator said that all training methods were used.
“Whatever tricks the trainer is giving, the dog always wants to follow the trainer. Dogs always instinctively follow their human handlers.”
Another tweeter, based in Wuhan, said: “We didn’t know that this could happen.”
“You should save these animals. If the trainer weren’t helping them, they would have died of hunger.”
However, the team behind the video has come under fire on social media — and has been accused of animal cruelty.
Hong Kong-based dog trainer LaZer said he was shocked by the footage.
“Sitting in my studio, there are dogs just outside of it. I have a responsibility to let them enjoy the walks. It hurts me to see those dogs being handled in such a disgusting manner,” LaZer told CNN.
LaZer, who runs an Instagram account with close to 150,000 followers devoted to the training of dogs and cats, told CNN that he felt hard done by.
“Many people feel people can’t be cruel to animals because they have us as owners. However this video has spread like wildfire and all of a sudden, this is the case. People are agreeing and saying that it’s illegal.”
The nonprofit group behind the video, Sun Hai Watch Dog Association of Wuhan, has denied the incident was abuse.
“What you see here is an object (dummy), not a live animal. As soon as the dog got hit it has tried to run away from the members of the team. The health worker had to approach them,” the director, Hu Tong, told the Global Times
“The health worker asked them, ‘Please don’t hit me with the club. Please stop!’”
What should be done?
According to Thomas George, Senior Policy Researcher at the Environmental Law and Policy Institute in New York, which advocates on animal rights and welfare issues, the training methods appear over the top.
“Caring for dogs is one of the most vulnerable jobs in China today, according to a recent global survey,” George told CNN.
“Based on animal protection laws, treating dogs with disdain can result in punishment and expulsion from the society.”
Actions by the state-backed human rights group in China are highly regulated, according to human rights lawyer and expert Wang Quanzhang.
According to a government paper titled “Animal welfare and public participation in animal management and protection” from 2015, all employers are bound to provide working conditions and protection for people working with animals to guarantee a harmonious social environment.
Guo Qiwen, an animal lawyer based in Hong Kong, said the behavior in the video looks suspiciously like animal abuse.
“It could be a badly-trained dog. But to this point, I’m not certain that these dogs were being trained. Any animal can be trained with well-trained or makeshift trainers.”
Wang said his experience of working with animals teaches him that there are many animal activists in China, but there’s an even bigger conflict of interest in social media and other platforms.
“It’s very hard to differentiate what’s real and what’s fake. Animals being abused and killed are something that stir emotions on social media, and there are many people who have acted as trainers (who) are well-paid for it.
“You can’t expect them to see themselves as bad actors, but humans are always a bit tougher than dogs.”